Summer, and the long grass is a snare drum.
The air hums with jets.
Down at the end of the meadow,
far from the radio's terrible news,
we cut the hay. All afternoon
its wave breaks before the tractor blade.
Over the hedge our neighbour travels his field
in a cloud of lime, drifting our land
with a chance gift of sweetness.
The child comes running through the killed flowers,
his hands a nest of quivering mouse,
its black eyes two sparks burning.
We know it will die and ought to finish it off.
It curls in agony big as itself
and the star goes out in its eye.
Summer in Europe, the field's hurt,
and the children kneel in long grass,
staring at what we have crushed.
Before day's done the field lies bleeding,
the dusk garden inhabited by the saved, voles,
frogs, a nest of mice. The wrong that woke
from a rumour of pain won't heal,
and we can't face the newspapers.
All night I dream the children dance in grass
their bones brittle as mouse-ribs, the air
stammering with gunfire, my neighbour turned
stranger, wounding my land with stones.
(‘The Field-Mouse’ from Five Fields, Carcanet, 1998)
Since I’ve had a favourite poet (and, let’s be honest here, it’s only been since Year 10), it’s been Gillian Clarke. Shakespeare comes close, with his: ‘My love shall in my verse ever live young’, but Gillian’s are more than just beautiful and masterfully crafted. They taught me how to read poetry – and for that, I’m eternally indebted.
I wrote a letter to her a month or so ago. I was trying to use ‘Phoning Home’ as the stimulus for an EPQ poem, and failing miserably. I thought that writing down questions as though posing them to her might help answer them. It did, at least for the writing phase of writing poetry. But the really tough bit, the bit that comes before – the thinking about it all before it goes on the page – I couldn’t even come close.
So I figured I’d send it to her publishers, c/o Carcanet Press Ltd. I might get lucky: they might send it on. I might get even more lucky: she might reply. But like I said, that was a month ago. And then, today, this came through the post in a hand-written envelope.
Man. Who needs the lottery?